Bonn, Germany – 28th August, 2015 | In the first public talk of his second visit to Europe, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa began by reiterating his hope that next time he might be able to visit more countries in Europe. He admitted to growing very fond of Germany, and joked with his audience about the sound of the German language and the German breakfast which is like lunch. On a more serious note, he commented on the lusciousness of the German countryside and rejoiced in the effort Germans put into protecting the environment at all levels. However, he felt that there was a lot more that could still be done, and this would be the main topic for his discourse.
His own passion for helping the environment, he explained, stems from his early childhood experiences in Tibet. In that vast and ancient landscape, with a small population, the Tibetan people were able to fully enjoy the natural environment around them, and they regarded the elements of that environment– the lakes, mountains, rivers, meadows and so forth– as a living system, inhabited by gods and elemental spirit and endowed with a vibrant natural energy. Consequently, they held the natural environment in awe and treated it with deep respect. “This is the type of environment I grew up in,” His Holiness said,”And the habitual seeds are still strongly with me.” However, many people living in cities never have the opportunity to experience or enjoy nature directly. “When we are that distant from nature it becomes more difficult to have an appreciation of the natural beauty of nature and of how precious the natural environment is,” he reflected.
He then went on to consider the connection between Buddhism and the environment. The 21st century is the age of information and discussion of environmental issues takes place across the spectrum of society: “Political parties express concern about the environment in response to available information, social activists do awareness raising, companies have taken note of environmental challenges, a lot of different people and different groups in the world are talking about the importance of the environment.” The challenge, however, is to translate talk into pragmatic action, and for this there needs to be a process in our mind-heart connection whereby the information we have in our brain brings about a change of heart which becomes the stepping stone for action. This is where the various spiritual traditions of the world have a part to play in protecting the environment. “Especially there is a role for Buddhism to be of benefit in protecting the environment and in trying to sustain the health of the environment. “
Throughout the life of Buddha himself, there is a strong environmental connection. His mother gave birth to him in a grove beside a tree; he achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; he gave his first teaching in the deer park forest at Varanasi; and, according to the tradition, he attained parinirvana between two sal trees. Indeed, it was the natural environment which supported him in his attainment of enlightenment. To us the setting of his enlightenment may seem too mundane and unspectacular, “but because of that ordinariness he could connect with the universe, with all sentient beings”. We might feel that this is rather disappointing; no applause, nothing grand or ostentatious marked this great achievement. “From the Buddha’s perspective the situation of his enlightenment was perfect. Our minds on the other hand are so disturbed by material desire that when it comes to dharma we’re pushed along by our usual habits and come to expect the dharma to be exciting for us. That leads us to have an attitude of spiritual materialism.”
The Buddha taught that all sentient beings are bound together in a mutually dependent connection, the Karmapa explained. In traditional Buddhist language, the outer environment in which all sentient beings exist is referred to as the ‘container’, and living beings are the content. “This metaphor from the Buddha’s teachings is a wonderful illustration that clearly highlights the mutually dependent relationship that sentient beings have with the world and each other,” he commented. In addition, the container is not seen as simply a material object but rather as a living entity that we must protect because if this outer container is damaged, what it contains will also be damaged or even lost.
Protecting the environment is not easy, but, in the final section of his talk, His Holiness detailed steps we can take ourselves in our own lives in order to protect it.
The first priority is to work on our own motivation and determination. We need to transform our own relationship with the environment and change our life-style, because that is where the problem lies. If we examine our habits closely, we may find we need to change them, and that can be painful and difficult. “We have a lot of information but information alone is not enough. We need to actually transform our motivation process so as to really genuinely transform our relationship with the environment; it’s important to work on our motivation.”
Next, we should challenge the culture of greed and in particular our own greed. “It comes down to controlling our own greed,” he commented. “If we look at what’s coming at us from the media, television, and advertising and so forth, it is designed to increase our greed. If we want to control or reduce our greed we need to take on the responsibility for ourselves – others won’t do it for us. We need to look into the distinction between what we really need and what we simply want. “
But this too depends on being motivated and determined: “We need great strength of heart, great resolve. Without that, we won’t be able to be decisive, and if we’re not decisive we won’t be able to make changes.”
Recognising the danger of ‘saying too much and doing too little’, His Holiness brought his teaching to an end with a final word of advice on how we as individuals can protect the environment. We can begin by making small changes, he suggested, on a day-to-day basis, according to what we are able to do. Then, over time, “our actions will accumulate like drops of water, drop after drop, and we’ll definitely contribute to a positive change.”
Bonn, Germany – 28th August, 2015 | Morning Session | A major theme during His Holiness’ second visit to Europe is how spirituality can be integrated into our everyday lives. Yesterday, when speaking of the need to develop empathy and compassion, he used the refugee crisis in Europe as a real-life example. He developed this further this morning when he referred to two recent events: the discovery of the bodies of 71 migrants abandoned in a truck in Austria, and the hundreds of migrants feared drowned when two boats capsized off the coast of Libya. “It is not sufficient to just say, ‘Oh those poor people’, and have sympathy,” he commented. “We should give rise to genuine compassion… genuine involvement, and more action.”
His Holiness acknowledged that, given our relatively comfortable existence, we often find it difficult to fully empathise with the suffering of others, but if we wish to practice genuine compassion there should be no sense of separation between ourselves and the object of compassion. If we can use our imagination skillfully to truly identify with the sentient beings who are suffering, we can generate true compassion which “goes beyond dualistic concepts, beyond perceiver and perceived, and beyond separation between the generator of compassion and the object of compassion,” he advised. Taking refugees as an example, he described how. “We should use our imagination to identify ourselves as refugees. In that way we will be able to make a more intimate connection with their suffering and experience… to actually feel that suffering and undergo the experiences the refugees are undergoing.”
The refugee crisis also clearly demonstrates the nature of the interconnectedness which transcends man-made borders. Europe is experiencing the results of instability in the Middle East, he said.
To carry a sense of personal responsibility when witnessing such suffering can be very daunting. It can feel like a heavy burden to bear. However, if we operate from the basis of true compassion, such situations can become a source of strength and courage and inspiration.
On Thursday His Holiness had explained that he intended to give a specialgomlung [meditation instructions and transmission] rather than the empowerment of Four-Armed Chenrezig originally scheduled. This gomlung of the Chenrezig liturgy All Pervading Benefit of Beings: The Meditation and Recitation of the Great Compassionate One belongs to the lineage of the siddha Thangtong Gyalpo, who was renowned in Tibet for many things: he lived an extraordinarily long life, dying in his 125th year; he recognised and taught the first Dorje Phagmo; and he is also venerated as the originator of the Tibetan operatic tradition, lhamo.
During his teachings, His Holiness has been emphasising that compassion is active not passive, and Thangtong Gyalpo is a great example of active compassion. Out of his concern for the people, who had no easy way to cross the great rivers in Tibet and Bhutan, he organised an extensive programme of iron chain bridge and ferry building across the region. For this reason, he was nicknamed Iron Bridge Builder [Tib. chakzampo], and the lineage he founded is known as the Iron Bridge tradition of the Shangpa Kagyu.
There followed a short Refuge Vow ceremony, which His Holiness prefaced with a short explanation of the nature of the refuge vow as “mainly promises we make to ourselves, agreements we make with ourselves”. The refuge vow precepts are supports for maintaining our promise in a continuous way. “Some people worry that they shouldn’t take the refuge vow,” he commented, “because they feel they won’t be able to continuously keep the precepts. They don’t need to worry because the desire to make a promise or agreement is up to oneself… If you have a natural inclination or sense of enthusiasm towards maintaining the commitments of the refuge vow, then the precepts will come naturally to you.”
The Karmapa then began guiding his audience through a practice session of the shorter version of the Chenrezig liturgy from the Iron Bridge tradition. He explained the visualisation of Chenrezig for each stage, and the audience was asked to focus on the visualisation as he read that portion of the sadhana. During this transmission, he raised two topics of general importance to practitioners.
Firstly, he explained that in visualisation, “the most important point is the meaning of the visualisation, not the appearances of the visualisations themselves”. In this particular practice, Chenrezig radiates love and compassion, so if we focus on this meaning, it can bring about a shift in our hearts and minds.
“Visualising Chenrezig from within this state of being moved,” His Holiness said, “our practice will definitely be one of living compassion. That is the best way of doing this practice rather than focusing on the visual details.” We should understand that the form of the deity is not like a sculpture but “a living being and living compassion”.
Secondly he spoke about the 6-syllable mantra of Chenrezig: Om Mani Padme Hung.
“When we recite the 6-syllable mantra, each of the 6 syllables of the mantra corresponds with liberating one particular realm from among the 6 realms of samsara. Each of the 6 syllables performs the function of liberating all the beings of one specific realm of the 6 realms of samsara.”
Finally, His Holiness concluded the practice session by dedicating the merit so that all sentient beings might benefit. In the evening he would return to the theme of compassion once more, this time exploring its role in protecting the environment.
Audience for Tibetans and Himalayan people living in Europe
Bonn, Germany – 29th August, 2015 | 7pm | After a full day of teachings, His Holiness the Karmapa set aside time to meet with Tibetans living in Europe. During a special audience organized by the Association of Tibetans in Germany, the Karmapa reflected on their shared condition as refugees and offered individual blessings to all those who had traveled from across Europe to meet him. As the Karmapa explained to them, he seeks out opportunities to connect with Tibetan as well as Himalayan communities wherever he goes. “I consider this important,” he told them, “and when we are able to meet, I feel I have accomplished an important responsibility and this inspires and encourages me.”
The evening began with a brief introduction to the history and activities of the association by its chairperson, Lobsang Phuntsok. He explained that among the 150 Tibetans and Himalayans in attendance, while many live in Germany, others had come from France, Switzerland, Belgium and other surrounding countries.
When requested to address the Tibetan community, the Karmapa began by acknowledging the experiences faced by refugees today in Europe, a theme he had touched on in several of his talks in recent days. “As we have been seeing,” he said, “the condition of refugees migrating into Europe is at a critical state and this is an added challenge you face living here as refugees at this particular moment in time.”
His Holiness the Karmapa observed that Tibetans are often filled with excitement and optimism when they initially receive their permission to migrate to European countries, but upon arrival find that conditions are far more challenging than they had anticipated. As they seek to make their way forward in exile, the Karmapa called on Tibetans “never to forget” why they left Tibet seeking refuge in the first place.
“The situation that originally sent us into exile continues within Tibet,” he said. “Even though the pace has slowed somewhat in recent years, the flow of people leaving Tibet has continued unabated since 1959.”
The Karmapa reminded them that “had we stayed in Tibet, we would face great difficulties in preserving our culture and religion, and would lack full freedom to fulfill the responsibilities that come along with our identity as Tibetans”.
“Wherever we find ourselves as refugees,” the Karmapa said, “it is very important that we not forget the main reason for going into exile: to have more freedom to preserve and protect the Tibetan culture and religion, and to perform our duties towards the Tibetan people.”
The Karmapa then directed his remarks toward future prospects for the preservation of Tibetan identity and culture in exile, and pointed out two important factors: the quality of their leadership and the commitment of the Tibetan people themselves.
“Among the conditions we need in order to avoid become discouraged is leadership,” he said, “ and especially the exceptional leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has led us and unified us, and the major spiritual leaders and good-hearted Tibetans cooperating under His Holiness’s guidance.”
As a second important condition, the Karmapa pointed out the key role of the Tibetan people’s own steadfast resolve, singling out the example of Tibetans within Tibet who keep alive their Tibetan identity in the face of great challenges. “They display even greater determination and courage in doing so than those of us living in free countries,” he commented, adding that Tibetans in exile can draw inspiration and learn valuable lessons from their example.
“We must never forget the kindness of our leaders and the commitment of the Tibetan people, especially those inside Tibet,” he told those assembled.
The Karmapa then turned his attention to the local concerns of Tibetan refugees living in Europe. He noted that although the total worldwide population of Tibetans is listed as 6 million, it seems likely that it falls somewhat short of that figure. As such, Tibetans throughout the world generally form a sort of ethnic minority, particularly within Europe where they often live scattered across various countries and regions.
“Even if you are the only family of Tibetans in the area,” he told them, “you should recognize that every family counts.” He urged them to cultivate strong family ties, take efforts to ensure their children receive a good education and seek sound means to earn a living. Joking that he had little ability to aid them in that regard, he said he could and did offer them all his prayers, leaving the rest to them.
Reflecting on the challenges facing the Tibetan community in preserving its identity, the Karmapa observed that some ethnic minorities opt to stick together and isolate themselves from the rest of society. “I am not convinced that this is the optimal way for us,” he said. Rather, the Karmapa urged Tibetans to strike a balance between standing apart and fitting in. He advised seeking out means to preserve their culture in a way that is compatible with the social context and modern times they are living in.
“Be a participant in the wider society you live in,” he told them, “while also being a participant in the Tibetan community.”
Outlining a strategy that avoids those extremes, on the one hand, he called on his audience to know who they are and stand their ground, so as to not lose their balance and become prey to the pull of external factors. On the other hand, he counseled them to reach out to others and communicate. “Stay open to the society you live in,” he said. “Be willing to make connections and to interact.”
As he concluded his remarks and the staff began preparing the space for individual blessings, the Karmapa joked that during his first visit to Germany, he had planned to give individual blessings, but the Tibetans all pressed forward in a huddle and surrounded him, completely filling the mid-sized hall. “That sort of crowding seems natural to us Tibetans and Himalayans, and it feels comfortable,” he said with a smile. “We might feel awkward if we stayed straight in an orderly line, but it made it impractical that time to give individual blessings. This time, the hall is so large that even if you all rush the stage, we still have space!”
On that warm note, His Holiness directed his attention to the long line of Tibetans and Himalayans who had gathered – from the very young to the very old – connecting with each one-by-one and offering all his individual blessing.
Bonn, Germany – 30th August, 2015 | 10.00am | The stage of the auditorium had been specially prepared for this morning’s empowerment. On the right-hand side of the stage stood a screened area containing a small altar with offerings placed in front of a thangka of Akshobhya Buddha. In this private space, the Karmapa would perform the preliminary and closing rituals of the empowerment. During the preliminaries, the chant masters led the audience in a deeply felt recitation of the mantra ‘Karmapa Khyenno’, and the steady cadence of the chanting was punctuated at intervals by the ringing of His Holiness’ ritual hand bell from behind the screen. Once the preparations were complete, His Holiness left the stage, to return a few minutes later in procession. Prostrating three times, the Karmapa then took his seat on the throne and the chant masters began the Kagyu Lineage prayer, followed by a mandala offering requesting the teachings. The body, speech and mind offering was led by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, followed by lamas from Kagyu centres in Germany.
Before commencing the central part of the empowerment, His Holiness took time to explain the importance of the Akshobhya practice which is praised as the supreme method for purifying karmic obscurations, the obscurations created by our actions. He described how, because of technological development and the like, the actions of humans in the 21st century exert a much greater impact than ever before. Human activity has had a disastrous effect on the world; it has done great harm to both the ‘container’ which is the outer environment and to the ‘content’, other sentient beings.
“Millions and billions of sentient beings are killed on a monthly basis,” His Holiness commented, “for the purpose of obtaining food… and many sentient beings are subjected to harsh treatment in order for human beings to have food and clothing.”
“I think we have reached a time when human beings have perfected the capacity to destroy the world,” he warned. “For that reason we need to think very clearly about the types of action we want to engage in and develop a sense of responsibility for our choice of action.” He continued: “Now human beings have become a very dangerous species. We usually consider tigers and lions as fierce and terrifying, but if we think about the health of the world and the precarious future of the planet, we will realise that in fact human beings are the most dangerous sentient beings.”
The main cause of negative actions is negative motivation, untamed states of mind which are not peaceful. “When our mind is governed by these types of motivation,” the Karmapa explained, “our outer conduct becomes harmful and coarse.” This effect is very evident nowadays. “The world has been afflicted by violent conflicts and incidents,” he elaborated, “and due to this I think it’s very common that many of us have a feeling of insecurity that is pervasively present in our minds.” He described this as “a continuous feeling of unease and lack of well-being”, and gave travel as an example. It now generated much more anxiety than previously, and in Europe, which was once considered a bastion of peace and stability, violent conflict has become more evident. The root cause is the motivation of human beings whose minds are disturbed by anger and hatred, hence violence occurs.
The purpose of the Akshobhya practice is to offer us a method which prevents our mind being overwhelmed by negative emotions, especially anger and hatred. The empowerment itself, the Karmapa explained, could be understood as making an auspicious connection with Akshobhya and permission to do the practice, or it could be taken as a blessing. “It is only the beginning,” he emphasised. “Now you have to do the practice.” The main point is for all of us to put effort into protecting our own mind streams from aggression and anger.
His Holiness then completed the empowerment, and, after a mandala offering and the concluding rituals returned to stand on the stage to make some final observations. As he began speaking, he spotted a little girl running towards the front of the auditorium. Smiling, he moved forward to the edge of the stage, leaned over and graciously accepted a picture she had drawn for him–two red hearts and a sky full of rainbows. Holding it up, he showed it to the enchanted audience, then resumed thanking everybody for coming and expressed his hope that after his second visit to Germany he would soon be able to visit dharma friends in other countries too.
Finally, the Karmapa detailed the status of the search for the reincarnations of Tenga Rinpoche and Akong Rinpoche, two lamas who had strong connections with many European students. Concerning Tenga Rinpoche, His Holiness said, “I have a great hope and prayer that we will soon meet with the reincarnation of Rinpoche.” “With regards to Akong Rinpoche,” he said, “it may be difficult to find the reincarnation immediately, but, nevertheless, I have had a connection with Akong Rinpoche since I was very young and we have been close, so I will definitely continue reflecting on this topic.” He advised disciples of both lamas to “let your minds be at ease. Continue sustaining the activities and teachings of your teachers, and that will suffice.”
Lunchtime had arrived. His Holiness left the stage to loud applause, with the promise that he would return in the afternoon to deliver his final public talk.
Day 3 of the teachings in Bonn | Teachings on Akshobhya
Bonn, Germany – 29th August, 2015 | Before bestowing the empowerment, the 17th Karmapa gave a two-part introduction to the Buddha Akshobhya, detailing the story, his importance in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and the connection between Akshobhya and the Karmapa lineage.
His Holiness began by clarifying the meaning of the name Akshobhya, explaining that in Tibetan Akshobhya is known as Mitrugpa. It means someone who is undisturbed by aggression and anger, he said, someone who remains unperturbed. The translation into English as ‘immoveable’ did not accurately convey this. Later in the teaching, he explained that within the tantric tradition, a second name Migyurpa was used, and this carried the meaning ‘unmoving’ or ‘undisturbed’.
According to the tradition, Akshobhya was originally a devout practitioner, a fully-ordained monk who asked the Buddha Big-Eyes which practice or quality was indispensable for the path to enlightenment. The Buddha replied unequivocally that the most important quality was unassailable patience, the capacity to remain undisturbed by negative emotions such as anger and aggression. Without hesitation, in the presence of the Buddha and in front of the sangha, the monk immediately vowed, “From today onwards, until I attain buddhahood, I will not hold any intention of anger or aggression towards any sentient being, no matter who they are.” Those present felt a great sense of awe and appreciation of the steadfastness of this bodhisattva, and even the Buddha Big-Eyes praised him, declaring, “You have a very stable mind…and from this time onwards you shall be known as Akshobhya. From now until you attain buddhahood your commitment not to express aggression towards any sentient being will not decline…and after you attain buddhahood, you will also be Akshobhya.”
His Holiness then examined the role Akshobhya plays within the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. There are references to such states of fruition as the ground of Akshobhya, otherwise known as the undisturbed ground, and the Buddha Akshobhya appears in the presentation of the five Buddha families. Within the four classes of tantra, which reflect increasingly subtler levels of relating to the true nature of reality, Akshobhya features in the highest tantra, the anuttarayoga, where he is invoked as representing the non-dual wisdom of the enlightened mind of Buddhahood. This is where the link between Akshobhya and the Karmapa lineage lies.
The Buddha Akshobhya is particularly connected to the Black Crown ceremony, His Holiness explained. This ceremony had been performed in many different countries by the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and witnessed by some of the older members of the audience present today. Akshobhya symbolizes the enlightened mind of the Buddhas, unchanging dharmata, which is the changeless, true nature of reality.” In Tibet, the sky is often used as a symbol for the quality of changelessness, and by association its colour came to be used to represent the unchanging nature. “The Black Crown isn’t really black”, the Karmapa continued, “but rather a dark blue, the colour of the Tibetan sky.” Thus, “In terms of the Black Crown Ceremony,” the Karmapa explained, “the Black Crown itself is a symbol representing the changeless enlightened mind, the wisdom of changeless true reality.” If they have the merit, those who witness the Black Crown ceremony “through the play of outer and inner interdependence and the interdependent relationship between symbol and that symbolized” can come to recognise the true nature of their own mind, the wisdom of changeless true reality.
Following an extended break during which His Holiness gave audiences to groups and individuals, the teaching resumed mid-afternoon. Having completed the background information in the morning, the Karmapa now shared his own personal reflections on the Buddha Akshobhya and the Akshobhya practice.
He described how his involvement with the Kagyu Monlam, during which the full Akshobhya ritual has been performed for the last ten years, had led him to research the Akshobhya tradition, examining sutras which feature Akshobhya, including those which are only extant in Chinese not Tibetan. In this way, he learned more about Akshobhya and developed a more profound connection with him and the practice. He recounted how the story of Akshobhya had impressed him deeply. “I feel very inspired personally by the motivation that Akshobhya gave rise to,” His Holiness said, “and the pledge he made not to engage in any anger toward any sentient beings from now until he attained full enlightenment.” He explained how he felt that studying these sutras had planted some beneficial habitual seeds in his mind stream. He feels deep respect for Akshobhya, especially given that Akshobhya committed to keep his vow until he reached enlightenment, a process which might take up to 30 countless aeons. Personally, the Karmapa said, he found the best instructions come from studying living examples of the past masters, of the Buddhas and followers of the Buddhas. Written instructions could be good, but in the end, they were just letters, he concluded.
Akshobhya’s achievement may be far removed from what we ourselves are capable of at this point in time. However, the Karmapa advocated that we should consider our own aspirations in the light of Akshobhya’s aspiration. “What about making the commitment to refrain from aggression from now until we die?” he suggested. “Even that is quite difficult to be decisive about. What about working with one week as our time frame? Could we commit to not engaging in any aggression or harbouring any anger towards other sentient beings for a week? What about for just one day? I’m not going to engage in any aggression from now until the evening.” Just thinking about it was not enough, he warned. We have to challenge ourselves and put in the effort to see what we are capable of.
In dealing with negative states of mind such as aggression, there seemed to be two common mistakes people made, he observed. Some people think we have to suppress these emotions: “I’m a Buddhist, I shouldn’t get angry.” His Holiness quoted a Tibetan proverb: If there’s a fire burning in your belly, smoke will come out of your mouth. Trying to suppress our emotions, he counselled, is not a healthy way to deal with them.
Another mistaken approach is to apply antidotes from time to time when we feel strongest and try to escape from mental afflictions when they become intense, but we never address their root cause. The best approach, he advised, is to relate to our emotions honestly, developing a sense of enthusiasm or joy in doing so, in order that we voluntarily take on the responsibility of transforming them. Otherwise the situation will be forced, and that could never succeed.
“The intention to refrain from aggression towards sentient beings is very important,” the Karmapa emphasised, “and it’s important because it is the antithesis of the mind of love towards sentient beings. The mind of love wishes for sentient beings to possess happiness, whereas the mind of aggression is the mind that wishes harm on them.” His Holiness then suggested a technique which we could use: when a situation arises, we need to control our instinct to react by creating a little distance mentally between ourselves and the situation. By being heedful, attentive and aware, and noticing immediately if we have slipped into a reactive mode we can avoid the unconscious reactions which increase our negative emotions. Mindfulness is the key.
He identified two types of disaster in the world which generate fear. The first type includes war, epidemics and natural disasters and occurs outside ourselves. The second type of disaster arises “from inside, within our own mind. That is the absence of love, the failure to cultivate love in our minds, and to ensure the presence of love in our mind.” It’s very important for us to rely on heedfulness, mindfulness and attentiveness. Such a situation provides the opportunity for anger to arise, and that is the true disaster. If we do not guard our mindfulness, we can become participants in the creation of this disaster in direct and indirect ways.”
As the afternoon session drew to a close, the Karmapa expressed the hope that they had been of some benefit to everyone and that they might in some way contribute to their processes of mental transformation.
“Sometimes we feel we’ve received blessings through gurus, or received their enlightened compassion, which causes us to feel faith and inspiration, “ he said. “ or at other times we may feel we have received the kindness of mother and father sentient beings. The effect is that some kind of mental shift occurs. It’s my wish and belief that maybe through this programme of teachings and the empowerment, you yourselves will be able to find some inspiration and basis for finding encouragement within yourselves that will be the beginning of making a positive change.”
The audience drifted slowly out of the auditorium, and many seemed reluctant to leave this space where they had received a day of blessings.
Day 4 of the teachings in Bonn | Final Public Talk on Sunday
Bonn, Germany – 30 August, 2015 | For his final public talk during his trip to Europe, His Holiness the Karmapa opened by expressing his hope that the audience felt satisfied with the time that they had shared together. His comment came at the end of four consecutive days of Dharma teachings, public talks, audiences and empowerments, and he pointed out that this was a longer period of time than they had enjoyed together on his previous visit.
He spent a moment contemplating the title of the talk, and chose the phrase ‘without limit’ to begin his exploration of the nature of satisfaction and happiness, and the mistaken methods we often employ in pursuing them. (Without Limit serves also as the title for his tour.)
“Due to technological developments and rapid material development and ongoing progress, it’s as if there are limitless choices presenting themselves to us, “he began. In spite of this it seems that most people appear not to experience a sense of satisfaction in life. Advertising constantly signals to us that there is something better than what we have, and bombards us with information seeking to convince us not to rest until we have attained it, he said. The result is a persistent sense that who we are and what we have is not sufficient, which has created a habit of feeling dissatisfied.
“Material wealth is a kind of artificial happiness,” he commented. “It cannot give us real or authentic happiness.” Reflecting on the foolhardiness of placing our trust in material objects in hopes of finding happiness, he described material power as a highly unstable form of power, subject to great fluctuation and therefore unreliable. Returning to the theme of ‘without limit’, he contrasted limited natural resources from which we produce goods with our greed, which has no limit. This places us in “an impossible situation”, he said. “A limited world cannot fulfill the unlimited desires of beings.”
While acknowledging that we do have certain physical needs, and therefore cannot reject external goods entirely, the Karmapa emphasized that “we must recognize that external objects cannot satisfy our inner needs. If we look to them as the sole or main way to satisfy our inner needs, we are destined to suffer.”
His Holiness therefore called for a re-orientation towards developing inner rather than outer wealth. This is the only way to become truly wealthy, he stated, and to feel satisfied with what we have. “There is nothing in the material world for our mind to rest in,” he said.
In the course of his teaching, the Karmapa outlined various ways in which our mistaken views about the nature of happiness prevent us from encountering the happiness we seek. “From a certain perspective, happiness is quite natural and simple,” he said. “Our problem is that we think of it as being complicated.”
As a means of finding inner happiness, the Karmapa offered the audience instruction in breathing meditation. Before he did so, he took pains to disavow any real knowledge of meditation. “I am no meditation master,” he said, conceding that he does “have some feeling of appreciation for inner happiness.”
The Karmapa joked that he does not much care for the question—which he is often asked—as to how many hours he meditates and what daily meditation schedule he follows. He described himself as not following any fixed schedule, but rather meditating when the occasion to do so arises naturally, and generally seeking to sustain mindfulness and awareness throughout the day.
In his presentation, the Karmapa highlighted two qualities of breathing meditation that make it particularly suitable for his European audience. First of all, he explained, since breathing is a natural and effortless activity, we do not need to take steps or do anything special in order for the focal support for our meditation to be present. “For this reason,” His Holiness said, “when we focus on the breath, we are allowing our mind to return to its natural state. When this happen, naturally the mind relaxes.”
The Karmapa observed that most people in Europe lead busy and stressful lives, full of ups and downs and unpleasant surprises. When we are under pressure and feel tense, not only does our mind become disturbed, but our breath does too. For this reason, regularizing the breath also helps to settle the mind, he said, and identified this as a second special quality of breathing meditation.
Linking his instructions to the theme of finding satisfaction and happiness, His Holiness noted that breathing meditation provides a very simple method by which we can “discover the experience of satisfaction”.
Simply focusing on our own inhalation and exhalation can yield a direct awareness of how amazing it is to just be alive, he said. He pointed out that were we required to purchase all the conditions needed for breathing, we would be unable to do so. Nevertheless, with no effort on our part, all that we need to breathe is available to us effortlessly, not only for a single breath but continually throughout our lives.
“Through this simple technique of breathing meditation,” he said, “we can gain the insight that we are amazing, wondrous beings.”
Before bringing the evening to a close, the Karmapa gave practical instructions for those interested in engaging in the meditation practice he had described. He explained that one’s physical posture should be relaxed so that the mind can settle naturally, and that one should breathe naturally and steadily. “We are not practicing Chi Gung!” he joked. “There is no need to take vigorous breaths or to hold the breath at any point. Just breathe as you would ordinarily.”
Noting that some masters recommend counting the breath, he expressed his view that it is also fine not to do that. “As you exhale, just pay attention to the breath,” he said. “If past problems, present problems or future problems come to mind, do not follow the thoughts. Let them go.”
His Holiness particularly recommended that meditating 15 to 20 minutes a day would be beneficial for those living in the West.
In closing, the Karmapa expressed his wish to be able to continue coming to Europe in the future, and not just to Germany which he is now visiting for the second time, but other countries. He acknowledged how much effort was required to bring about his visit, and offered his heartfelt thanks to all those who had supported his visit and worked hard to make it a success.
As he described his plans for the upcoming year, His Holiness emphasized the annual Kagyu Monlam prayer gathering in Bodhgaya, plans for a special event to commemorate the 16th Karmapa and the Arya Kshema Winter Nuns’ Gathering. The Karmapa spoke of his plan to begin the process leading to full ordination to women in the upcoming year, eliciting a burst of applause. He then expressed his aspiration to return to Europe in May, June or July of the upcoming year, and the applause continued.
Before closing, he offered words of encouragement to Dharma centers in Europe. He acknowledged that the heads of the Dharma centers have faced special challenges because many Karma Kagyu lamas have been unable to travel with any frequency to Europe. “However,” the Karmapa said, “since your faith and samaya are unchanging and your spirit is resolute and steadfast, you have kept heart, and I hope you will remain undiscouraged by these circumstances.”
Interfaith dialogue with the people and the church of the City of Langenfeld
St. Quirinus, Langenfeld–1st September, 2015 | On 30th August in the evening, the 17th Karmapa left Bonn and returned to the Kamalashila Institute in Langenfeld. The following evening he joined the villagers for a special event at the parish church of St. Quirinus. This was his second visit to Langenfeld parish church. He first visited the church in May 2014, and at that time promised the priest, Monsignore Schrupp, that he would return. As Monsignore Schrupp remarked in his welcome speech, “I did not expect him to come back so soon!” The event, organised jointly by Kamalashila Institute, the church of St. Quirinus and the people of Langenfeld, drew more than 500 people. There were no empty spaces in the pews.
This imposing church with its high vaulted ceiling, known as the ‘Dom’ or cathedral, was filled with the warmth exuded by the local people and their obvious delight that His Holiness had come to spend an evening with them.
The Karmapa and Monsignore Schrupp, walked into the church together like old friends, and when the monsignor bowed respectfully to the altar, the Karmapa followed suit, demonstrating his own deep respect for the Christian religious tradition.
The evening’s dialogue on the role of religion in the 21st century began with Monsignore Schrupp talking briefly about the difficulties world faiths face at a time when atrocities were committed in the name of religion and Western society was becoming increasingly secularised. He suggested that an important task for religious leaders was to help people reconnect with a spiritual path.
In his response, the Karmapa first explained the importance of religion in the Tibetan community in exile. When they escaped from Tibet, the people had been forced to leave everything behind. They came to India as refugees having lost everything, not just their belongings but also their homeland. In the face of this tragedy, many had developed a renewed devotion to their religion. Widening the scope, he suggested that it was of utmost importance that all religious traditions work together to spread the positive messages of religions to counteract the impact of the negative actions committed by some. Although there may be philosophical differences, he continued, there is a lot of common ground which religions share: “The main message seems to be the same for all religions: we are all human beings living on this planet, and we are all interested in avoiding suffering and being happy.” Religions share a message of unity and peace. Thus it is more important for them to focus on the ‘power of the heart’ rather than differences in dogma, he concluded.
The floor was now opened to questions from the congregation. The first asked about recent proposals by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a secular ethic which could be of relevance worldwide. What were the Karmapa’s views on this? The Karmapa observed that the use of religious terms could be a barrier to communication. Consequently, it is sometimes more beneficial to use other ways to express the valuable and helpful ideas contained in religious traditions. “Each religion has a treasury of good qualities to offer, which are of practical help; for instance the quality of loving kindness, and also the patience which cannot be disturbed by anger.” In order to be able to help people in urgent need, he continued, “We have to transcend the borders and limits of our religious concepts.”
The second question concerned the role of women in Buddhism and whether there could ever be a female Karmapa. It seemed that nowadays most religious traditions have taken steps to strengthen the position of women, His Holiness replied, but society at large also plays a crucial role in this issue. Of course, it was possible for there to be a female Karmapa, he said, but it is contingent on the status of women in society changing.
“From the viewpoint of Buddha dharma, there are no obstacles to a female Karmapa, although so far this has not happened… it could happen if there were a change in society; it all comes down to whether the Karmapa can best perform his activities as a male or female…what is helpful for beings in society and how we can make a change.”
Moving on to the third question, His Holiness considered yet another important issue in Europe today. How is it possible to reach the hearts of terrorists?
“You teach that it is important to reach the hearts of people. However there seem to be people whose hearts we cannot reach, for instance Islamic State militants. Is there always a chance to reach people’s hearts?” the questioner asked.
The Karmapa acknowledged that even he found it very difficult to accept the attitudes and actions of people such as the members of the I.S. organisation, but suggested that we need to reflect on what has made them act in that way. Though it is difficult to be empathic with those who seem to enjoy killing indiscriminately, we need to remember that many of them have been brainwashed from an early age. ”If they now act in this hateful and violent way, it is the result of their nurture, which has deafened their own hearts and driven them into ignorance,” he maintained. “If we see them as beings trapped in ignorance, we may be able to view them with compassion and concern.” It was more difficult to understand those people who had grown up in Western society, who, because of various causes and conditions, had been corrupted and joined the terrorists. “We have to take into account their background and education,” he suggested. However, returning once more to the advice he gave during the teaching on the Buddha Akshobhya, His Holiness counselled, “We have to be careful not to act under the influence of our own instinctive reactions.”
Monsignore Schrupp had been listening attentively. He now interrupted to exclaim, “Isn’t it amazing… here we are, sitting in the Langenfeld church… two representatives of two different religious traditions…yet, when I listen to your answers, I realise they are exactly what I would have said…”
It seemed the dialogue had become a real-life demonstration of a heart connection between the views of two very different religious traditions. This led appropriately into the final question, posed by a woman who had been born and raised as a Catholic but had now become a Buddhist, and addressed to both Monsignore Schrupp and the Karmapa. Her question was nearer a heartfelt plea that religions should work together from their shared ground of love and compassion in order to ameliorate suffering. Was it not possible, she asked, to unite the potential of both sides in order to diminish suffering in the world?
The Karmapa answered first. In theory it is possible for religions to work together but it seems to be very difficult to put into practice. He drew on his own experiences at inter-faith dialogues in India. The delegates espoused brotherhood in public, but later returned to their own peer groups, and the distance between them and others, and the arguments began again. The important thing, His Holiness suggested, is for religious leaders to meet in friendship, in a way similar to his meeting with Monsignore Schrupp, developing a heart-to-heart connection.
Monsignore Schrupp agreed that co-operation between different religious traditions is possible, and gave an analogy with medical care. ”When people are taken to hospital, no-one cares about what religion they are…they give them the medical care they need. With regards to this, there are many good things happening in practice but I don’t have the facts to hand,” he concluded.
On his instructions, the congregation lit the hundreds of candles which had been placed on the pews and sat silently as Monsignor Schrupp and the Karmapa stood in front of the altar and offered prayers from their respective traditions, for the well-being of all sentient beings and world peace. The evening finished with a Christian and a Buddhist benediction, and the audience broke into loud applause, obviously impressed by the Karmapa’s answers and the heart-to-heart connection between their elderly priest and the young Buddhist leader.
The Karmapa walked over to a side chapel, and there offered a kata [a white scarf traditionally offered by Tibetans as a sign of respect] to the statue of the Virgin Mary. Placing a lighted candle on the holder in front of her shrine, he stood for a moment in meditation. It was a perfect ending to an evening which had demonstrated that it is possible for different religious traditions to share ideas, hopes and difficulties in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Karma Tekchen Yi Ong Ling Retreat Centre Halscheid – 2nd September, 2015 |On Wednesday afternoon, the 17th Karmapa made his first visit to Halscheid to bless Karma Tekchen Yi Ong Ling retreat centre. Situated just outside the small village of Halscheid in the Windeck region of Germany, the centre is run by the German Karma Kagyu Gemeinschaft under the spiritual guidance of the Karmapa’s senior tutor, the Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Although two traditional three-year retreats have been completed at Halscheid, the main focus of the centre’s work these days is to offer a variety of short and long-term retreats, so that laypeople with work and family responsibilities may benefit.
In readiness, the centre had been decorated with newly-hung prayer flags and the eight auspicious symbols had been painted on the gravel path. As His Holiness’ car approached, Lama Kunga Dorje, the Retreat Master, stepped forward to welcome him.
Sixty people, retreatants past and present, sponsors and friends of the centre, had gathered in the shrine room. Sitting on a throne directly below a photograph of his predecessor, the Karmapa himself led the prayers and blessings. After the short ceremony, he presented the centre with a signed thangka of White Tara. Lama Kunga gave a short account of the centre’s work, and then His Holiness responded with a short talk in English.
“Retreat centres are very important for the Kagyu lineage,” he said, “because the Karma Kamtsang especially emphasises practice and meditation…it’s called the practice lineage. We have a long history of solitary retreatants such as Milarepa.” The Karmapa expressed his delight that there was a new retreat centre in Germany, while apologising for his own lack of retreat experience.
“I had a month’s retreat, and I did a White Tara retreat for 6 or 7 months when I was in Tibet, but this can’t be compared with a three year retreat,” he admitted. However, although he lacked formal retreat experience, he considered that being confined to the fourth floor of Tsurphu Monastery when he was in Tibet constituted a different kind of retreat experience. Moving on to the work of Karma Tekchen Yi Ong Ling, His Holiness commended its approach as very suitable for people in the 21st century who live such busy lives and have to balance the responsibilities of work and family.
“Sometimes, it’s not necessary for everybody to complete a 3 year retreat,” he explained. Often, even should the opportunity arise, we may be too busy, or our minds might not be prepared sufficiently. “To do a one week or two week retreat is very good, in order to enjoy our meditation practice,” he suggested, “so that we get a real taste of spiritual practice.” During a short retreat, we can take a break from the dominance of the five senses, and, through meditation practice, we can experience through a sixth sense instead and realise the joy of samadhi. “Also,” he continued, “the experience of retreat builds up our strength and self-confidence in order to face life’s challenges, difficulties and of course death.” In Tibet he had always enjoyed visiting the Tsurphu retreat centre, high up on the mountainside. “As soon as I enter a retreat centre,” he explained, “I feel some peace or blessing.” This special feeling associated with retreat centres gave him confidence that the Kagyu lineage is not about to die out.
Everyone present now had chance to offer a kata to His Holiness and receive his blessing directly.
Afterwards, the Karmapa held a private meeting with those who had completed the traditional three year retreat, before visiting and blessing the wooden hut where the sole, current three year retreatant lives. A final photograph with everyone gathered in front of the centre, and then the visit was over. Everybody lined the road once more and waved their katas enthusiastically as His Holiness drove away, back to Kamalashila. The members smiled at each other. Their centre had been blessed and their work approved by the head of the lineage.
Kamalashila Institute, Langenfeld–3th September, 2015 | In a short farewell ceremony for staff and volunteers in the shrine room at the Kamalashila Institute, the 17th Karmapa thanked everybody on behalf of himself and his entourage. Christof, the German translator, was ready and waiting, but His Holiness light-heartedly grabbed both microphones in his hands and began speaking directly in English.
“On the last day here at Kamalashila, I want to say to the lamas, the staff and the volunteers, I deeply appreciate your hard work, and your sincere motivation. We all feel very happy and have enjoyed being in Kamalashila, and we look forward to seeing you again.”
The resident lama, Lama Kelsang, and Horst Rauprich, President of the German Karma Kagyu Gemeinschaft, also gave short speeches of thanks to His Holiness and his staff.
“Please come again and again. Please come every year if possible,” was their heartfelt request.
Afterwards, there was a small party on the patio outside the centre’s cafeteria: a buffet of Tibetan food brought in specially from a Tibetan restaurant in Bonn. The Karmapa moved from table to table, speaking with staff, volunteers and guests, joking and smiling, evidently at ease.
The following morning at 7.00am, he left for Berlin. Holding out their katas and flowers, staff and volunteers lined the drive to wish him well. As his car passed through the entrance gates, the sun rose, bathing the small cavalcade in soft golden light as it made its way down the hill, past Langenfeld church, and out of sight.
For our debut episode, Daniel travels to Dharamsala, India, to interview His Holiness the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
His Holiness talks about the efficacy of listening to Dharma classes, receiving empowerments, and taking ordination vows online, touching on the differences between Tibetan and traditional Western education and how each benefits from dialogue with the other. He further shares some thoughts on how Western Dharma centers could be improved; he talks about vegetarianism, including anecdotes from his own and his previous emanations’ experiences with vegetarianism; and he discusses his recent involvement planning to re-establish the tradition of full ordination for Tibetan Buddhist nuns.
Menz, Germany–5th September, 2015 | Prior to his first journey to Europe in May 2014, the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje expressed his aspiration that he could continue the work begun by his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. On Friday, during his second journey to Europe, the Karmapa was finally able to visit a Karma Kagyu Buddhist centre 70 km northwest of Berlin, Karma Tengyal Ling, which was given its name by the 16th Karmapa in 1977. The Karmapa, who first heard of the centre while he was still a young boy in Tibet, spent several hours there.
He first visited members and supporters in the shrine room and then had a tour of the site before enjoying a specially prepared lunch. There was a humorous moment when he mounted the throne and, because of the lower ceiling, his head touched the frieze parasol. The Karmapa laughed, sat down and began to lead the prayers. Horst Brumm, the director and founder of Karma Tengyal Ling, welcomed him and formally offered him the centre. “This is yours and we will do what you wish us to do,” Horst declared. “We have been waiting for you to come to take this place.” In turn, His Holiness presented Karma Tengyal Ling with a signed thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha
During the tea and sweet rice ceremony which followed, the Karmapa talked and joked with those around him. He enquired about the local wildlife and was told that there were deer, wild boar, rabbits, hawks, cranes and lots of mice. He also asked about the drone that had been flying above the centre when he arrived. Later, he amazed everyone by flying the drone himself and skilfully manoeuvring it over the trees and buildings before expertly bringing it in to land.
In a short address to members and supporters of the centre, His Holiness spoke unreservedly of his confidence that because, “the 16th Karmapa gave the name for this centre with his utmost best intentions … this will be a place where the Dharma will flourish.” He also commended Horst Brumm and Brigitte Koenig for their commitment to the centre for over more than thirty years.
“The place reminds me so much of Tibet,” he said, “and I wish to give my heartfelt thanks to the two people who have been taking care of the place in spite of so many difficulties, with others, for so many years. It is my aspiration that we will be able to greatly improve and develop this centre into something great…so that we can do a lot of good things here.”
The Karmapa went on a selective tour of the central part of the site where the proposed new centre will be built: round the buildings, through a wooded area and across a huge freshly harvested field, through another wooded area, into the garden and finally into the house, which is slowly being refurbished. [In fact, Karma Tengyal Ling has acquired additional land and will occupy nearly 200 hectares eventually.]
After a special lunch, prepared by Tibetan caterers and volunteers, His Holiness returned to the shrine hall to meet the local people who had made it possible for Horst to buy the land and had supported the establishment of a Buddhist centre.
The Karmapa began, “The vision of the 16th Karmapa was for this entire region to experience peace and well-being. He wished for people here to live in harmony with each other.”
“While we are of different religious upbringing, and somewhat different cultural background, we still came together here in an atmosphere of agreement, friendship and harmony,” he observed, “and considering our many differences, this mutual affection carries even greater weight.” Because the 21st century is the ‘age of information’, there had been extensive sharing of knowledge about other people’s cultures and religious views. “I believe that now is the time and age where we all have the chance to get to know each other and learn to respect each other on a personal level,” the Karmapa continued. The crux of the matter, however, lies not in our differences but in our shared humanity.
“We are all different in many ways and aspects,” he acknowledged, “However, fundamentally, we are all the same: we all long for happiness and well-being, and we all want to avoid pain and suffering. On a basic level we are all simply human beings on this planet, and in this regard we are equal. We are all simply standing on the same common ground.” His Holiness continued, “I believe it is very important to remember this. In particular nowadays, when the world is beset with problems, with all sorts of conflicts, when many suffer and go through hard times, it seems even more urgent that we learn to co-operate. We need to work together on this very common ground, and engage in caring for and helping other living beings on this planet.”
His Holiness concluded by thanking the local people for their many years of support, help and encouragement for Karma Tengyal Ling, and then apologised, “I can’t talk much more right now. I must have eaten too much at lunch.” Everybody laughed and applauded. He then returned to the main house to discuss future plans with members of the board.
The history of the centre demonstrates an extraordinary coming together of causes and conditions as well as the perseverance and determination of those who had the vision of a Buddhist centre in Berlin.
The story began in 1976, when the 16th Karmapa wrote down the name ‘Karma Tengyal Ling’ for a future Buddhist centre in Berlin. One story tells how at that time he predicted that there would be a flourishing Dharma centre ‘in the German capital, Berlin’ only to be corrected because Bonn was the capital at that time. The following year,1977, while on a short visit to Berlin with the 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, he handed the paper over to a small group of practitioners and left his dorje and bell as the seed for the centre to thrive.
At that time members met in each other’s homes. However, in 1983 the group was able to move into rented rooms shared with a group of musicians on the fourth floor of a factory, and became the very first Tibetan Buddhist centre in Berlin. Brigitte Koenig, the second oldest member of the community, recalls, “It was very difficult to meditate to the sound of rock music!” In 1984, they were able to move into their own space, but it was only much later, after the reunification of Germany in 1989 when former East German government property went on the market at affordable prices, that they were able to buy land. The property where the centre now stands had once been a farm, but in 1945 it was converted into a holiday home for the children of factory workers. Consequently, there were already buildings on the land which could be used for accommodation and a shrine room. The land is part of a nature reserve and building permission would not normally be given, but the fact that buildings already existed made it easier. There were several prospective buyers for the land so the local villagers also had to be convinced that Buddhists would be appropriate owners. In 1992, the World Buddhist Congress was held in the former East Berlin. Suddenly, Buddhism became something accepted and respected across Germany, and the doubts of the local population were assuaged; the villagers welcomed the Buddhists onto the land. Since then, thanks to the dedication of Horst Brumm and Brigitte Koenig, the centre has been slowly taking shape.
When the time came for the 17th Karmapa to leave, people lined the path to wave goodbye, and His Holiness’ car made its way to the dirt track leading two kilometres to the village of Menz. After the car had disappeared, everyone stood for a moment as if bereft, and then, as suddenly, they began to hug each other, laugh and many unashamedly wiped away tears of joy. The Karmapa had returned to his centre with great auspiciousness.
The Karmapa visits the Bodhicharya center in Berlin
Bodhicharya Centre, Berlin, Germany–6th September, 2015 | More than 350 people comprising representatives of Bodhicharya centres across Europe, members and supporters of the Berlin centre, and invited guests crowded into the main shrine room to greet the 17th Karmapa on this his final teaching engagement during his second visit to Europe. A distant sound of Tibetan gyalinannounced his arrival at the centre. His Holiness was greeted at the gates to the centre by its founder Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, who escorted him along the brick path through the buildings, preceded by a boy and a girl scattering flower petals. After planting a tree in the garden, His Holiness made his way to the shrine room.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche welcomed the 17th Karmapa once more to Bodhicharya Berlin and confessed, “We didn’t make any progress with the building, but,” he continued, “we are determined to work for the people here and for the Dharma.” He highlighted in particular the programme of hospice training and the volunteers who cared for the dying–currently they are looking after thirty people–and presented His Holiness with a list of names of the dying and those who had died, requesting prayers for them.
As at previous centres during this visit, the Karmapa took the role of chant master and led everyone in the opening prayers. There was a simple mandala offering.
After greeting everyone and expressing his delight at returning to Bodhicharya Berlin once more, His Holiness commiserated with everyone over the lack of progress in constructing the centre. “It just shows that it is not an easy undertaking to establish a large Dharma centre in a huge city like Berlin,” he said, then thanked Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and the members and said how much he appreciated their efforts and the work they were doing.
As this would be his last teaching during his 2015 visit to Europe, the 17th Karmapa chose to return to the theme of how we must integrate the practice of the Dharma into everyday life. “I would like to talk again about what is really indispensable on the path, and what the heart essence of Dharma practice is,” he explained.
His first point was that we should strive to make our lives meaningful, based on an appreciation of their preciousness. “All Dharma practice should support this goal,” he said.
His second point was that, unfortunately, we often restrict our practice to a particular time when we say prayers or meditate, and then the rest of the time we are busy with our day-to-day life. If we compare the time spent practising with the time spent on other activities, it is obvious that this is not what might be called a successful Dharma practice. If our Dharma practice is to be successful, the Dharma has to permeate our lives, and not be restricted to a certain time of day spent in our shrine room. “We have to connect ourselves with the essence of the Dharma in all the other parts of our lives, right there where we live and work,” His Holiness emphasised.
Reflecting on the increased interest these days on meditation, His Holiness suggested that for many it had become “a break from the stress of their busy lives, what might be called a ‘spiritual vacation’” and that this type of practice “is linked to an experience of relaxation and well-being that we could call a ‘spiritual massage’.” People expected their practice to produce an experience of well-being, but it was questionable whether this could be called true Dharma practice, because true Dharma practice is not an analgesic, and viewing it as such might cause more pain in the long run. When we truly engage in Dharma practice, we work with our body, speech and mind. Particularly when we work with our mind and consciousness, we should foresee obstacles and times of difficulty and unhappiness. We may even reach a point where we think that we can’t go on. “We should expect these difficulties and obstacles,” His Holiness advised, ”and be prepared to joyfully accept them and taken them on to the path, but that is not easy.”
Some people mistakenly believe that the purpose of Dharma practice is to have a direct encounter with a yidam or meditation deity, or to gain some power or energy through this. However, such experiences are not the way to turn our lives into something meaningful and precious.
“The most important way in which we can turn our lives into something precious and meaningful is to learn how to really benefit others,” the Karmapa commented, “and to ensure that our ability to help and benefit other sentient beings grows, and that, with all our hearts, we aspire to become a good human being who works for the benefit of others.”
At all times we should guard against arrogance. It seems that some people believe practising Dharma sets them apart and makes them special in some way, superior to all those who don’t practice Dharma, the Karmapa warned, and to illustrate the point, he recounted the fable of Gold and Mud.
Once upon a time Gold and Mud had a conversation. Gold looked down at Mud and said, “Look at me! How I shine! How beautiful I am! What value do you have? You are so dirty and you stink. In fact, you are thoroughly disgusting. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Well,” Mud replied, “Perhaps I’m not all bad. Lotus flowers grow from me. Can you grow lotuses? And vegetables, mushrooms, and lots of other plants all grow out of me. I give them strength and feed them. What can grow from you?”
Gold had no reply.
“What we learn from this example is that rather than turning ourselves into something special, it is much more important that through us something more useful and helpful is created in this world,” His Holiness commented. “We should contribute to the well-being of other sentient beings; we should become a catalyst for good in the world. This is what is needed.”
With these words, his Dharma talk ended, and after thanking everyone again and reiterating his hope that next time he would be able to visit other countries in Europe and meet Dharma friends there, he presented the centre with a signed thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Following the teaching, many of the members from across Europe were able to have a private audience with His Holiness. They queued good-naturedly on the path outside the main house until their turn came to climb the narrow wooden staircase to the fourth floor, squeezing past those on their way down.
Then, all too soon, mid-afternoon, the 17th Karmapa left the centre to return to his hotel. He smiled and waved goodbye to the hundreds of people milling around the path and gate and along the road outside the centre, who had waited patiently for a final glimpse of him. The official programme of his second visit to Europe had reached a successful conclusion.
Bodhicharya Berlin is located in the former East Berlin. Originally an old farm which had fallen into disrepair, it is a protected site because of its historical importance. Much love and support has gone into the refurbishment of the buildings, stage by stage. The vision is to create not just a centre for Buddhists, but a welcoming space for inter-faith dialogue and activities which enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being such as yoga and Tai chi. already, an important part of the work of the centre is hospice training and looking after people who are dying.
It is a non-sectarian Buddhist centre, inviting teachers from all four main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and also from non-Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
The KYC met with HH Karmapa on October 28th, 2012 at Dorzong Rinpoche’s Jangchub Jong monastery outside of Dharamsala. The Karmapa had just concluded a three-day empowerment and teaching on Chöd practice at the monastic institute. This program was initially requested by the abbot of the Tara Mandala center in Colorado, Lama Tsultrim Allione. The monsoon had just ended, making the way for ample sunshine and cool, comfortable weather in the wooded foothills of the Himalayas. It was suggested that we conduct the interview outdoors, and Karmapa’s poise and humor, and clarity resulted in an exceptional interview. Although this video interview has been posted online, we felt that these teachings should be more accessible to the global community. Since this may inspire those who wish to learn more about the Dharma and HH Karmapa’s views on common concerns for practitioners, we have transcribed and edited the interview.
The KYC interview with Karmapa was orally translated by Mitra Tyler Dewar, and transcribed and edited by Casey Kemp.
KYC: What Tibetan Buddhist teaching do you think is the most beneficial and appropriate for young people in the modern world? HH Karmapa: That’s a very tough question. Certainly young people these days, in terms of finding peace, stability, and a meaningful sense of self, face a lot of challenges relating to things that are happening in the outer world, such as new challenges relating with technology. So it is really a big question in terms of what specific teaching would benefit the situation the most. But in general, there is a very vast and extensive presentation of mind in Tibetan Buddhist teachings and very vast and extensive presentations of how we go about developing peace in our minds, and how we go about having a meaningful relationship with our sense of self. Since that is the focus of Tibetan Buddhist teachings, I think there is definitely a lot of material there that will be relevant to young people and to the challenges they face. But in terms of what specific body of teachings speak best to their situation and most immediately, that is a very big question. In general if you are looking at the question from the perspective of formal practice and not having a lot of time to engage in that, and if you want to be a serious dharma practitioner, then the main thing is that you need to put real effort into prioritizing dharma practice in your schedule. But apart from that, if you want to do just a little spiritual practice throughout the course of each day, then I think some Shamatha meditation would be helpful. This is because throughout the course of any given day we allow our minds to become wound up very tight, our minds become very heavy and busy. So Shamatha practice, allowing our mind to rest at ease in a calm and relaxed state will help loosen this heaviness and bring more spaciousness into our minds, into our sense of being. That would be beneficial. But really the matter goes deeper than that when we think about the long term. In regards to a short term way to practice, we might just devote some time each day in that manner, but when we look at it from the long term perspective, then we need to bring this sense of peace and spaciousness into all the activities of our lives so that Dharma practice isn’t something we’re just doing for one hour a day, but we are actually able to bring this sense of peace and spaciousness to our work, to our studies, to our environment that we find ourselves in every day. We are able to bring it into our emotional life as well as the emotional challenges we face. So, that’s the bigger question: In the long term how do we bring our minds to a state where it is never moving from that peace or moving from that state of calm and spaciousness? If we manage to shift our perspective so that we are considering that question then I think that would be of greater benefit. KYC: Most of us cannot or do not want to become monks or yogis in a cave. How can we bring our work and family life onto the path and make a positive contribution to society? HH Karmapa: So in general when we look at the communities that are devoted to practicing the Dharma, there are two basic types of community: there is the monastic community and the community of householders. Both of these communities are the same in that both communities want to practice the Dharma and need to practice the Dharma. But of course they have different lifestyles and different ways of going about doing that. So the monastic community’s emphasis is to place all of our focus constantly on the activities of hearing, contemplating, and meditating, and to the greatest degree possible we relinquish all other activities outside the immediate framework of hearing, contemplating, and meditating. Alternatively, the householder lifestyle involves doing some worldly activities that are directly connected to being a householder while also doing some activities that are connected to practicing the Dharma. So, from a certain perspective we can say that practicing the Dharma in a householder context is more challenging than being a monastic because there are some aspects of the Dharma that are difficult to reconcile with worldly life. It’s difficult to manage to bring these two groups of activities into complete harmony with one another. So from that perspective householders have an extra challenge that monastics do not have. But at the same time, the Buddha taught the Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings and was bearing all sentient beings in mind when he taught and from among these sentient beings, most of them were lay householders as opposed to monastics. So the possibilities are certainly there for lay householders to have a very meaningful practice life. In particular, if we can manage to focus on the Dharma as householders and mix the Dharma with our day-to-day activities, then in some cases our relationship with the Dharma can be very powerful and meaningful. This is because of the quality householders have in that their lives are seen in an immediate way. They see directly the problems of the world and challenges of the world and thus experience the world in an immediate way. They have a very rich experience of reality as it is in the world. Monastic practitioners are a bit separate from what’s going on in the world so to speak. They keep themselves at more of a distance from the activities and movements of society so there are some realities that they don’t have as clear an access to on an experiential level. They might have an understanding of what is going on but without the direct experience in the same way that householders do. For that reason, if householders are able to mix the Dharma with their day-to-day experience then it is possible that their Dharma practice can bring beneficial and effective results. KYC: Some students have a great passion for art, music, or sports. How can they use these as part of their spiritual path instead of a distraction? HH Karmapa: There are many ways in which we can use the same outer activity. The full picture of that action will depend on the attitude you bring to it as well as whether or not you know how to do it properly. Also, depending on how we think about the action that we are engaged in, it will have a different meaning for us. For example, someone who doesn’t know how to practice Chöd might be able to pick up a damaru and bell and play them correctly, but they will have a different meaning in mind than someone who does know how to practice Chöd who picks up a bell and damaru and plays them. It’s the same thing with playing sports, playing music, or creating art. There is the outer aspect to the action but then there’s the inner attitude and way of thinking that you bring to that action. That way of thinking is going to change the way the action affects you. If we can give things like music, sports, and art an extra meaning so that they are not just outward oriented activities, then I think it is possible for these to become an extension of our Dharma practice. For example, for one who wants to create art, from a mundane perspective, you could just have an outward motivation of making something beautiful or making something new and innovative. But from the point of view of practice, you could go further than that and have some type of connection with the inner beauty of mind and wanting to bring that forward as an extension of your practice of making art. So, bringing our inner world to bear on the things we do in our outer world can be very transformative. KYC: The West emphasizes individuality and freedom, and some have a problem with the concept of authority. This can make it difficult to understand the role of the lama and to develop devotion. How can we in the West better understand this? HH Karmapa: One thing that comes up when we look at this question is the difference between eastern and western cultures regarding relationships to teachers or the concept of authority, individuality, and individual freedom. Actually I very much appreciate the way westerners talk about individuality and the importance of individual freedom and individual rights. I am a big fan of those concepts and I think that they are important. But on the other hand, we also need to be aware of the context in which individual freedoms can flourish in a healthy way. That context is that of interdependence. Individuality and individual freedom is important but we have to remember that those things take place in the broader context of an interdependent world. So the question becomes how do we balance these two things: our individual freedom and the greater interdependent world? Basically, we have to figure out a way to set a limit to our individual freedom or acknowledge the fact that our individual freedom does have limits. The meaning of individual freedom isn’t simply that we do whatever we want and even if we didn’t internally acknowledge this limit ourselves, we would come up against that limit in a practical way in the world. So, this is a great question that we have to contemplate: how to balance these two principals? In terms of relying on a teacher or a guru, the important point to understand is that this is a relationship that we enter into voluntarily and we have full control over choosing what type of relationship we enter into with our guru and the way in which we want to rely on a person as a teacher. There is no instance in Buddhism of a teacher forcing someone to become their student and then forcing them to do things. If there is, that is certainly not the correct Buddhist understanding of how to rely on a teacher. One voluntarily enters into a student-teacher relationship. One also voluntarily chooses what type of relationship that is going to be and how to rely on someone as a teacher. The student has to agree to the ground rules before anything starts happening, so it is basically their own choice. For example, there are some people who are very adventurous and like to go to dangerous places. Other people might be surprised at the choices they make and say, “I would never do that”, but the person who goes to those dangerous places is making their own decision and we have to respect that to make that choice is their own individual freedom. So, when we enter into a relationship with a teacher, we are entering out of our own free will. The other important thing to acknowledge is that even if we offer our whole being, our body, speech, and mind to the teacher, if the teacher gives us an instruction that we aren’t capable of fulfilling, then it is ok for us to just say that we are incapable of doing that. There is nothing barring us from responding in that way. So with a teacher there is never really a sense of being forced to do something. But the main question that we have to contemplate further is how do we exercise individual freedom in an interdependent world. The other thing that should be noted about having a teacher-student relationship in Buddhism is that there are different levels of teachers and along with that, there are different kinds of relationships that we enter into. For example, if we are studying English and we’ve committed to studying with someone as our English teacher, then it is appropriate for them to be concerned with matters that are related to studies of the English language. We would expect that. If they heard us using an incorrect grammatical construction, then it would be appropriate for them to correct us on this. But we would consider it inappropriate, a violation of boundaries, if they then started telling us who we should marry or where we should live because that doesn’t have anything to do with why we are relying on them as a teacher. In the same way with Dharma, in the general sense of having a Buddhist teacher as a spiritual friend, it’s appropriate for us to expect that teacher to give us advice about our spiritual practice and things connected in an immediate way to our spiritual practice, but we wouldn’t expect our teacher to go beyond that and say you should marry this person or you should live in this or that place and so on. However, when we get to the level of a Vajrayana teacher-student relationship, then we are getting to a higher level of teacher and we are voluntarily entering into a relationship where anything the teacher says to us we are going to receive with respect and give it consideration. But that is also something that depends on our own mental capacity and our own interests. There is also no type of encouragement that we should enter into the highest levels of teacher-student relationships right from the very beginning. KYC: Many western practitioners associate love and relationships as a hindrance to practice. This can become a source of conflict for those who desire intimacy but do not wish to create obstacles to their practice. In what way should we view personal relationships in relation to our practice? HH Karmapa: So before, we discussed a healthy notion of boundaries in our relationships with our spiritual teacher and we talked about how if something was connected in an immediate way with a spiritual practice then our teacher would have an appropriate avenue to give advice to us about that topic. So, for example, if you ask a teacher about the appropriateness of having a relationship with a certain person specifically in regards to your spiritual practice and the effect your relationship would have on your practice then, since it is very connected to your spiritual practice, it would be appropriate for your teacher to give advice on that if they were requested to. In the same way, when we are entering into relationships as spiritual practitioners, it’s appropriate for us to be concerned about the effect that relationship has on our spiritual practice. In particular, we can actually see our romantic relationships themselves as a spiritual practice. We don’t have to view them as two separate things. In fact, if we can practice the Dharma well, we will be able to be a source of true love but if we can’t practice the Dharma well, then we won’t be able to give any genuine love at all. Therefore, our romantic relationships are actually a genuine practice of the Dharma and they don’t need to be viewed as separate from the Dharma whatsoever because relationships are in essence a relationship between two minds. Whether it is a romantic relationship or family relationship, everything happens in terms of working with our minds and the way we respond to events and other minds. So it is a mind-to-mind relationship that we are working with. We can try our best to practice a relationship as a Dharma practice, as a practice of understanding our mind better and of working with our minds. But sometimes even if we try our best we still fail and the relationship doesn’t work. Nevertheless, if we approach it as a practitioner, then we must view the relationship as a spiritual training. We must not view our relationship as separate from the Dharma. As a spiritual practitioner, if we view our relationship as separate from the Dharma, then that is a strange situation to be in, because then what relevance is the relationship to you? We also don’t need to be free from attachment. Some people think that they might be going against Buddhist teachings if they are in a relationship because the relationship is about attachment, but we don’t have to be free from attachment from the beginning. We can slowly work on freeing ourselves from attachment. The important point to underscore here is that it is freedom from attachment that produces true love. Often what we think is that if there is no attachment then there can’t be any love. In order for there to be love, there has to be attachment. That’s the logical formula that we set for ourselves. But from the Buddhist perspective, if we free ourselves from attachment, that’s the only way we will be able to provide true love. So therefore the Buddhist practice and the spiritual exercise that we bring to relationships is to gradually free ourselves from mundane attachment and to offer true love. If we are able to do this as an authentic Dharma practitioner, then our relationships will go well and even though they might not always work out, then we will be able to say that we had a relationship in which we did not harm the other person and that was beneficial for both people.
In this series of teachings given during his first-ever visit to Europe, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, provided a stunning demonstration of what it means to live and teach with an open heart. The Karmapa shared his own life experiences and the feelings they awakened in him, reflecting on his own process of finding meaning in life. Even though he was addressing massive audiences in convention centres, the youthful Buddhist leader spoke as if conversing with close friends. The result is heart-based and comes direct with the freshness of experience.
The teachings contained in this book issue a clarion call, urging us each to find the meaning of our own life as we take up the responsibility for the world we all live in. To do so, the Karmapa assures us, we need only nurture the seeds of compassion that we all have within us.
“Actually, you are the Buddha. Not such an effective buddha, perhaps, but… a buddha, a small Buddha…. We need to nurture our inner Buddha, our child Buddha. – The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje”
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A final farewell from His Holiness before flying back to India, on the evening of 12th September, 2015 at the conclusion of his second visit to Europe.
The main message of the Karmapa’s European visit in August and September 2015 was how to integrate spirituality into everyday life.
Since we are living in a world that is becoming smaller while our lives become more and more interconnected, we have to find ways to take more responsibility for our surroundings and to create better conditions in general for a peaceful and harmonious co-existence.
This universal task, the basis of which is the cultivation of a clear vision and a good heart, was the focus of all of His Holiness’ teachings and talks, especially with reference to the current dramatic refugee situation in Europe. Again and again the Karmapa emphasized, that the aim of practising the Dharma – the Buddha’s teachings – is not to become better or more special then others, but to become a better human being, a person who actively helps increase the happiness and well-being of all sentient beings. Love, Compassion, Rejoicing and Equanimity – in Buddhist terminlogogy “The Four Imeasurables” – are the distinct qualities we need to cultivate in order to realise this.
We thank His Holiness the Karmapa for visiting Europe once more and for his clear and direct words. He has shown us the path we need to follow in these times of disorientation, violence and destruction. Now it is up to us to actually walk and practise this path.
We hope to be able to welcome His Holiness to Europe again next year, especially to other European countries, in order that his message and blessings may spread everywhere, and his inspiration might strengthen all of our efforts to live spirituality in our daily lives.
President of the Karma Kagyü Gemeinschaft Deutschland e.V.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has now completed his three week visit to Germany and returned to India by Indian Airlines on the evening of 12th September 2015. He was seen off at Frankfurt airport by Mr. Ngodup Dorji, Tibetan Representative for Central and Eastern Europe, Mr. Horst Rauprich, President, Karma Kagyu Community in Germany and Ven. Ringu Tulku, President, Karmapa Foundation Europe.
During this visit the Karmapa taught for four days in Bonn at the Maritim Hotel to about 2000 devotees coming from all over Europe and also from America, Asia and Australia. The teachings were also webcast and seen by many more thousands of people all over the world. The daily reports, photos and recorded teachings reached over 100,000 people online worldwide.
His Holiness visited various Dharma Centres such as Kamalashila, Halschied, Karma Tengye Ling and Bodhicharya Berlin and gave teachings and guidance on how to practice Dharma in every day life and how to be a better human being who is helpful and beneficial to society. He had a meeting with the Tibetan community from Germany and nearby countries. He met the people of Langenfield in their Church where he was received by the Bishop. He also visited a refugee camp and gave his encouragement and support.
For last 5 days the Karmapa had some free time when he could visit the countryside and enjoy the natural beauty of Germany. His Holiness hoped to visit other parts of Europe in next years and expressed his gratitude for the most warm welcome that the people and government of Germany extended to him.
You can catch up on all the daily reports of the 2015 teachings here.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa: "Mud & Gold", a Heart Advice given at Bodhicharya, Berlin, Germany, 6th September 2015:
"This seems to be a good occasion to insert an example, to illustrate what I want to say, and I want to take it from an old story. The old story says: 'Once upon a time', you know…
It is about a dialogue between Gold and Mud. The Gold speaks to Mud and says: “look at me, how shiny and nice I’m looking, sparkling and immaculate. And you, what’s your value, after all? You look so dirty, so muddy, you’re stinky, filthy, and, at all times, discusting. What do you have to say?”
The Mud says: “Well, maybe it's not so bad after all. You know, out of myself, lotus flowers are growing. And you, have you ever born a lotus flower? And also a lot of vegetables are growing nicely, right out of myself. A lot of mushrooms and life is nurtured, and I gain strength just out of myself. What do you have to say?”
And as the story reports, Gold didn’t know how to anser to that.
Now, what I learnt from this example is that, and what I want to show with that example is that, rather than turning ourselves into something very special or extraordinary, it is much more important, that, by ourselves, or through ourselves, or initiated by ourselves, something more useful or helpful is created in this world, that we contribute to the wellness of other sentient beings, we contribute to their... to benefit for others, initiated by ourselves and through our service, or if you want to say, by just being more useful for others. So this is what is really much more needed. That is the most important thing. Thank you so much."
~ His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.